Friday, December 21, 2007

December 24, 2020 Part #2

“We’ve got a bad problem. The left-handed thing-a-bob that controls the outer gizmo on five has totally failed. First time I have ever seen one go completely like that. Usually they will partially operate, at least enough to…”

“OK, OK! What do you have to do to fix it, and how long will it take? When can I get going? I’ve got thousands of presents to deliver before morning.”

“Oh, it must be replaced. Unfortunately we don’t have a left-handed one in stock here in the storeroom. We have three right-handed ones, but they will not fit.”

“So where is a spare?” yelled Santa, becoming very red in the face. Mrs. Claus reached over and touched his arm as a warning to calm down.

For ten long seconds Santa stood absolutely still, gritting his teeth, as he struggled to control his frustration. Finally he continued in a soft, quiet voice. “How long will it take to get a spare whatever you call it and install it so I can go do my job?”

“That’s the problem. The computer says the nearest one is in the warehouse in Florida. I’ve contacted the duty storekeeper there, and she’ll have one on the midnight transpolar rocket express. That’ll put it here shortly after one-thirty, and we’ll have it installed, tested and ready to go by no later than three.”

“By three! That’ll put us completely out of the launch window.”

This time Mrs. Claus got up from her rocker and walked over to where Santa was standing. His face was even more red, and his eyes bulged out like he was about to explode.

“Oh, have another cup of coffee and sit down before you pop.”

Santa sat down in the controller’s chair, and buried his face in his hands. “Three! It might as well be next week. If I’m out of the launch window, I’ll run afoul of the inter-city rocket busses taking the night shift home. I’ll probably hit every stratospheric red-light between Nome and Naples. Some of the presents won’t get delivered until well after sunrise. Do you know how many children are expecting presents to be under the tree? Do you know what they are going to say if they wake up and the presents are not there? Do you have any idea how many law suits I might face? I could be sued for treble damages, claiming alienation of affection, breach of contract and mental anguish! Somebody call Phineas T. Pettifogger, my attorney. Get the rascal out of bed and tell him to stand by for big trouble!”

He jumped up and wandered back to the table where the Elves were arguing how to proceed The Loadmaster wanted to finish loading in advance, while the Chief Engineer claimed he needed work space inside the cargo hold.

As Santa joined in the discussion, one of the Elf apprentices, easily the youngest and smallest of anyone on the maintenance crew, quietly slipped through the back door of the bunker. The little Elf slowly worked his way up behind the group, then reached up and tugged at Santa’s coat. Without even looking down, Santa brushed his hand away.

“Don’t bother me. I got work to do and things to think about.”

The little Elf persisted, but with no better success. Finally, in the tinniest little voice, he spoke. “But Santa, I know how to fix the sleigh.”

Nobody heard him except Mrs. Claus. She looked up from her knitting, stared at the little Elf, and then suddenly yelled at Santa. “Hey, you old fool, pay attention! The little Elf says he knows how to fix the sleigh.”

‘Oh, he doesn’t know anything,” sneered the Chief Engineer. “He’s only an apprentice, and mostly just washes and waxes the sleigh.”

“Nevertheless, you listen to what he has to say. You were an apprentice onetime yourself, but that was ages ago.”

Santa slowly turned around. For the first time that night, he had just the hint of a twinkle in his eyes.

“OK, Shorty, tell me how to fix that no good pile of junk out there.”

“It’s easy, Santa. Just turn the outer gizmo upside-down. Then a right-handed thing-a-bob will fit, and we have plenty of those. Comet will work almost as well as before. You’ll have to leave off one small piece of the inner shielding, but it’s not on the hot side of the tube, so this won’t hurt.”

“That’s nonsense!” stated the Chief Engineer. But then he stared into space for a moment and suddenly smiled, “But it just might work.”

The Chief Engineer, Mission Controller and Loadmaster rushed out the door to the pad, and gathered around the sleigh. Inside the bunker, one of the controllers listened intently to his headphones, and then turned to Santa and gave a thumbs up.

“How did you know this?” Santa asked the little Elf.

“We take the shielding off when we clean the sleigh every year after your trip, just before we all go to Florida. Sometimes we take the gizmos out, so I knew this one could go in upside-down.”

“See what I have been telling you,” laughed Mrs. Claus, “If you had been listening instead of talking so much, you would have saved a lot of time.” But she gave him a fond look even as she made fun of him.

* * *

It is now T-3 minutes and counting. Mrs. Claus passes the lunch basket through the hatch, kisses Santa on the cheek, and scurries clear of the pad.

5-4-3-2-1 BLASTOFF! All tubes ignite with a roar, and the sleigh leaps clear. As it quickly passes out of sight, Santa can be heard over the data-link, yelling at the top of his voice:


And they heard him exclaim as he roared out of sight:



Wednesday, December 19, 2007

December 24, 2020 Part #1

December 24, 2020

Christmas is only T-25 minutes away and counting. All pre-flight checks are proceeding normally. The elf ground crew scurries around the launch pad, completing the fueling of the sleigh. So far, the count-down has been smooth, but tensions are running high as launch time draws closer.

On the launch pad, lit by strings of multi-colored Christmas lights, and by the candles in the windows of the control bunker, the massive red sleigh crouches, poised for flight. Holly wreaths and strings of mistletoe, shivering gently in the chill breeze, drape the yawning mouths of the eight rocket tubes.

Santa Claus stands in the center of the control bunker where he can see the status board showing how the launch sequence is going. Mrs. Claus kneels beside him, sewing up a tiny rip in his red space suit. Santa is complaining to the Elf Loadmaster.

“Make sure you check the gasket on the cargo door. If It leaks just a bit, it whistles and drives me batty. Also, don’t load the stuff so far aft. Last year she was tail heavy all the way to Birmingham.”

“Right, Santa,” retorted the Elf, “I’ve already checked the cargo door. As for loading, we’re right on the computer simulation. The predicted center of gravity is within 10 millimeters of ideal.”

`”BALDERDASH!” yelled Santa, “That computer hasn’t been right for the past twenty years. Besides I don’t weigh near as much as that dumb machine thinks I do. That’s why your load prediction is off.”

Mrs. Claus laughed around the pins sticking out of her mouth. She peered over her glasses at Santa and slowly shook her head.

“Why you old fool, you’ve gained ten kilos in the last five years!” Turning to the Loadmaster, she winked and chuckled “Don’t pay any attention to him. That computer was completely checked out just last summer. Load her by the book and let her go.”

ALARM ALARM ALARM. Red lights flashed and alarm bells rang in mission control. All eyes quickly turned to the status board covering one end of the bunker. The count-down clock was flashing, showing T-20 minutes and holding. An excited babble of voices came from the controllers seated at their consoles, as they talked with the pad crew, trying to determine the problem.

“What in thunderation is wrong now?” roared Santa, “If that piece of junk acts up on me again, I’m going to trade it in for a snowmobile.”

“Hush, you old fool, so I can hear the reports.” Mrs. Claus was the calm one as usual.

The Mission Controller finally yelled over the din. “Tube five is not holding pressure. We have stopped fueling while we check it out. It may be only a leaking seal which we can repack in place, but we won’t know until we remove the outer shielding.”

“Which one is tube five?” asked Mrs. Claus

“Comet” replied the controller.

“COMET!” yelled Santa, banging his fist on the top of the console. “Comet messed up on us four or five years ago. I thought we fixed it then? What’s going on out there? How long will it take to repair it? Why can’t I get any information from the pad?”

“Oh relax, and have a cup of coffee,” said Mrs. Claus as she calmly closed up her sewing kit and put it away. “If you will just leave them alone, the elves will fix it and then you can go deliver the presents, and the rest of us can have some peace and quiet.”

Twenty, maybe twenty-five minutes pass, and Santa is growing more nervous by the second. He stalks over to the window looking out over the pad, then to the mission controller’s console, checks his watch, stomps over to the table where the engineers have unrolled the blueprints for tube five, then back to Mrs. Claus. She is sitting in her rocking chair, knitting a sweater and paying little attention to his non-stop chatter.

“I have never been late! No matter what has happened, I have always made it on time. But not his year! I feel it in my bones. This time that Comet tube will have something really bad wrong with it. I just know it. I’m going to be late getting out of here.”

Right on cue, the Chief Engineer came into the room, his long face advertising the bad news.

Santa didn’t give him a chance. “What’s wrong with the sleigh? How long will it take to fix it? How soon can we load and go on the trail? I can’t waste any more time. Let’s get this show on the road.”

The elf slowly walked over to the table where the blueprints were laid out, and turned to face Santa.

“We’ve got a bad problem. The left-handed thing-a-bob that controls the outer gizmo on five has totally failed. First time I have ever seen one go completely like that. Usually they will partially operate, at least enough to…”

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Jericho Wall - Part #2

When her mother made a pronouncement in that tone of voice, it was the end of the conversation! The WORD has been made known and all would obey. As if to underline the fact that the word had been spoken, her mother turned back towards the cupboard and gathered up silverware.

Under most circumstances, Mary Catherine would never have dreamed of questioning further. This time she felt compelled to continue, to fly into the teeth of the storm. She certainly did not want to openly defy her mother, knowing what that might bring. But she felt an urge to somehow make a statement of independence, to assert the fact that she had doubts about some of the accepted beliefs, and that she was capable of debating these ideas. Picking up ice tea glasses from the cabinet, she turned and faced her mother.

“Mother, you always enjoy watching the clogging at the county fair. That’s dancing. You told me you used to clog when you were young.”

“DON’T YOU BACKTALK ME! Clogging certainly ain’t sinful. Why we been clogging in these here mountains for as long as anyone can remember. You ain’t never heard no real man of
God in these parts say nothing against clogging. You’re trying to twist my words around, young lady. You’re trying to make me say that clogging is the same as dancing. It ain’t! DANCING is SINFUL, and that’s that!”

Mary Catherine’s knees were so shaky she had to grab the back of a chair to keep from falling. As much as she wanted to go to the ballet, she wanted also to ease her mother’s wrath yet somehow be able to assert her own ideas. Summoning the very last of her courage, she struggled on.

“Please, Mother, I’m not sassing you. It’s just, well, it’s sometimes hard to understand things. Ballet is something like clogging. It’s been done in some places as long as anyone can remember.” More bravely now, she continued, “I haven’t heard any preachers say that ballet is sinful like other kinds of dancing.”

“Well,” her mother sniffed, “I suppose they think it’s all right up there in New York, but that ain’t no great shakes as a recommendation.”

Feeling that the tension was easing a little, Mary Catherine responded in a lighter tone of voice. “No Mother, ballet isn’t from New York. It’s a kind of folk dancing, and originally came from Russia.” As soon as she said this, Mary Catherine died inside.

“RUSSIA!” Her mother’s voice went up an octave and her eyes seemed to glaze over. “You mean to tell me you want to miss a meeting at God’s house to go see some outsiders doing a dance from Russia? The only thing that ever came out of Russia is heathen, devil-worshipping
COMMUNISTS! Brother Charley Baker on TV says the heathen communists are the anti-Christ, trying to establish Satan’s kingdom right here on earth. You will not miss church to go see some Russian dance. I am shocked that you would even suggest such a thing. You march right up to your room, read your Bible, and get down on your knees and beg God’s forgiveness for such sinful thoughts!”

Mary Catherine put down her dishtowel, turned and slowly climbed the stairs. She went to her tiny room, tucked into the upper back corner of the house, picked up her well-worn Bible and sat in a chair near the small dormer window.

Opening the Bible, she glanced at the page and read:

“…when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, they raised a great shout, and Jericho’s walls fell down in its place…”

She laid the Bible in her lap and stared out the window. The familiar scene of forest and mountains seemed to blur into a montage of dancers gliding across a church while scowling spirits swirled overhead screaming SIN! Above it all she could hear her mother’s voice far away calling “Mary Catherine, Mary Catherine…”

“Mary Catherine, are you deaf, child? Come down to supper. Papa’s already at the table, waiting to say grace.”

Closing her Bible, Mary Catherine slowly rose and looked around the familiar room. It now seemed different, for suddenly she was seeing things as a different person. No older, certainly a
bit sadder, but surely much wiser. It was not just missing the ballet. There would be other performances. It was the realization that the wall of rigid thought surrounding her closed, tight-
knit world was no longer solid. Although not by design, her argument with her mother had caused the initial crack. She had stood her ground, at least for a little bit, and had tried to express her own ideas. This time she had been slapped down. There would be other times. Bit by bit, the Jericho Wall would come tumbling down.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

The Jericho Wall Part #1

The Jericho Wall

“Hurry, Mary Catherine,” called Mother, “We must get the table set and finish fixing supper before Papa and the boys come in from the fields.”

Even as she hurried about taking dishes from the cupboard, Mary Catherine was in turmoil. “How can I ask her?” she agonized? “The whole family has always attended every night of the Spring Revival.”

Pausing only long enough to brush her long brown hair from her eyes, Mary Catherine bustled around setting the table, trying to stay so busy she wouldn’t have time to think and lose her resolve. Finally, grabbing the last of her courage, she blurted out. “Mother, would it be all right for me not to go with you’all to Church on Friday night? Mrs. Massie has arranged for our class to go to Asheville on the activity bus. Johnny is going and he will bring me home.”

“Child, whatever has gotten into you? Why, what would it look like if you wasn’t there with all the rest of your kin? Everybody in Pinson Cove knows this here family supports our church just as much as we can, and that means we’ll always be there whenever there’s preaching to be heard.”

“Yes, Mother, I know. But I’ve been to services Sunday, and last night, and we’re going tonight and Thursday. Would it be so awful if I missed that night?”

Her mother turned. Like a hawk, she stood tall and gaunt, hands on her hips, staring at Mary Catherine with fierce eyes. “Just what is this doings you’re so all fired-up to go to? I can’t imagine anything more important that going with your family to God’s house!”

Mary Catherine wiped her hands on her apron. She hesitated, fearful to tell her mother, knowing full well how the wrong words might set her mother off down a road from which she could not be turned. However, there was no backing down now.

“We’re going to the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium…”

“Thomas Wolfe!” her mother interrupted angrily, “He’s that low-life writer they’s so proud of over there in Asheville, ain’t he? For the life of me I can’t understand why they would name something after him. Anything they’s having there can’t be no good.”

Mary Catherine cringed. If her mother got riled up over the name, there was little chance for her plan. Bravely she continued. “It’s just part of the Civic Center, Mother. There is a touring group from New York. Mrs. Massie has arranged for our class to get reserved seats. This is the first time this group has come to Asheville since 1980, almost six years ago.” Seeing

the frown on her mother’s face, she rushed on. “I have money for my ticket saved.”

The frown on her mother’s face deepened, and her voice changed to a more suspicious tone. “Just what exactly is this here fancy group from New York? I can’t imagine why anybody would

want to go hear singing by people not from this part of North Carolina. Why, we got some of the best singers round here you could ever want to hear.”

In a more belligerent voice she continued. “This ain’t no gospel singin group from one of them high-falutin church schools up north, is it? You know what we think about them so-called Christians. Why, they don’t hardly even believe in the Bible. I swear they shouldn’t even be allowed to call them churches, for they’s no better than a bunch of…”

Mary Catherine knew she had to get her mother stopped now or she would never even get an answer. To interrupt her mother was almost a sin in her family, but she chanced it.

“It’s not a singing group, Mother. It’s a dance troupe from the New York City Ballet.”

“DANCE! You don’t mean to tell me you’re thinkin you might run off to Asheville to see a bunch of half-naked, Satan-loving savages jumping round screaming heathen songs? Let me tell you, Missy, you better get your head straightened out right quick. I knowed it was a mistake letting you go to County High School. I should have insisted you go to Fellowship Christian School, even though they ain’t quiet right bout the second coming, but at least you wouldn’t be around sinners who would go to such heathen doings!”

Once again Mary Catherine dared interrupt her mother. Twisting a dishtowel around her hands, ignoring her shaky knees brought on by fear, she forced her voice to come out strong. “NO, NO, Mother! It’s not a rock concert. I wouldn’t even dream of going to one of those. This

is a ballet company. They dance, well, it’s like they dance to tell a story. The stories are very old, and …”

“I don’t care what kind of stories they are! You know just as well as I do what this family thinks about dancing. Just last fall Brother Russell preached a powerful sermon bout how dancing is pushing the young people of this world right into the gates of Hell. Dancing is SINFUL!”

When her mother made a pronouncement in that tone of voice, it was the end of the conversation! The WORD has been made known and all would obey. As if to underline the fact that the word had been spoken, her mother turned back towards the cupboard and gathered up silverware.

Morman candidate

I have watched with interest Milt Rommey's speech about his religion. Talk about much ado about nothing. The really sad thing is that he had to make this speech.
The other disgusting thing are the comments made about the so-called experts. Many of these people go on national television to demonstrate their appalling ignorance. They have not read history, and they are totally off base. It is almost sickening to hear these know-nothings call the LSD church a "cult." If this is a cult, then so are the Southern Baptists, and many other of the "religious right."

I do not agree with the Mormon theology. However, I admire almost all of the Mormons I have known. They, along with the Quakers, sincerely try to walk the walk, as taught in the Bible. Too many of the so-called main-stream religions just talk the talk. Go read the history of the Mormons during the Great Depression, and you will get an idea of what I say.

It is disgusting that a presidential candidate has to go on national television to say that he will not be influenced by his religion. Hell! I want my president to be influenced by his religion. That's a hell of a lot better than being influenced by big-business or by the lame-stream media.